Dems ask Mnuchin to probe Russian investment in state election tech

Dems ask Mnuchin to probe Russian investment in state election tech
© Anna Moneymaker

Maryland Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenators huddle on Russia sanctions as tensions escalate On The Money — Support for new COVID-19 relief grows Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Former Maryland rep announces bid for old House seat MORE, both Democrats, asked Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinConservatives are outraged that Sarah Bloom Raskin actually believes in capitalism Suspect in Khashoggi murder arrested The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to tackle omicron risks with new travel rules MORE on Tuesday to review a Russian oligarch’s investment in a company that runs part of the state’s election system.

In a letter, Cardin and Van Hollen asked Mnuchin to scrutinize venture fund AltPoint Capital’s investment in ByteGrid through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS). The panel, chaired by the Treasury secretary, reviews foreign acquisitions of U.S. businesses for national security risks.

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The senators’ letter comes as federal and state law enforcement officials prepare to fight attempts by foreign nations to influence or hack the upcoming midterm elections.

“Access to these systems could provide a foreign person with ties to a foreign government with information that could be used for intelligence or other purposes adverse to U.S. interests,” Cardin and Van Hollen wrote.

“We know that our elections are under threat from foreign cyberattacks and disinformation efforts. Our democratic process can also be manipulated through foreign investment in elections infrastructure.”

AltPoint Capital holds an ownership stake in ByteGrid, which hosts Maryland’s voter registration system, candidacy and election management system, online ballot delivery system and unofficial election night results website. AltPoint’s largest investor is Vladimir Potanin, who is reportedly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Maryland officials have expressed fears that their state’s election system could be compromised through the Russia connection to ByteGrid. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) began an investigation of the firm hours after special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“Even the appearance of the potential for bad actors to have any influence on our election infrastructure could undermine public trust in the integrity of our election system,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last month.

Annie Eissler, chief marketing officer for ByteGrid, told Maryland officials that the company’s investors “have no involvement or control in company operations,” according to The Baltimore Sun.

Cardin and Van Hollen asked Mnuchin to begin a CFIUS review of Potanin’s connection to ByteGrid and intervene if it poses a threat to U.S. national security or critical infrastructure.

The committee has blocked or effectively killed several planned foreign acquisitions of U.S. tech companies, primarily by Chinese firms, during President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dead at 77 Biden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE’s first term. The panel has received bipartisan support from lawmakers concerned about the country’s ability to stave off espionage and intellectual property theft from U.S rivals.

Congress boosted CFIUS’s powers in a massive defense spending bill that Trump is expected to sign within days. The bill expands the scope of deals that CFIUS can inspect and block to investments touching critical infrastructure, which can include technology used to conduct elections.